HE CARRIES US

Praise the Lord; praise God our savior! For each day he carries us in his arms. [Psalm 68:19 (NLT)]

carrying his childMy daughter-in-law sent photos of the family’s day at the apple orchard. The grands picked apples, pet the farm animals, climbed the tractors, raced the pedal karts, did the zip-line, raced through the corn maze, traversed the goat bridge, and enjoyed their fill of donuts and apple cider. It was a fun-filled but exhausting day. The last picture was of my son carrying the youngest grand (who’d fallen asleep on the ride home) into the house.

The photo brought me back to my childhood when, like my grand, I’d fall asleep in the car on the way home from a family outing. Once home, my father would scoop me up in his strong arms to carry me into the house and up to my room. I remember feeling safe and loved as he carried me in his arms.

The oversized La-Z-Boy in our den was my father’s chair but, when he wasn’t home, my mother and I would snuggle there and talk for hours. I’d pour out my troubles, questions, hopes, and fears. She would quietly listen and then comfort, guide, encourage and pray with me. Holding me in her arms, she’d dry any tears and reassure me that life would eventually work out for the best.

Those childhood days are long gone; my parents passed away more than half a century ago and all that’s left are fond memories. Nevertheless, there still are times I’d like to shed the duties of adulthood and be a child again: to be the one carried instead of the one doing the carrying—the one falling apart instead of the one putting it together again. I don’t think I’m the only person who’s ever wanted to resign from adulthood. The responsibilities that come with maturity can weigh on us all.

In these troubled times, today’s responsibilities feel especially heavy. Every day seems to bring another challenge. We may be grown up but we haven’t outgrown the need to be nurtured, encouraged, comforted and restored. Many of us, however, seem to have outgrown the willingness to stop and admit our vulnerability and need. Just because we’re adults doesn’t mean we can’t rest in the arms of our Heavenly Father and let Him carry us when we’re weary. Although we can’t return to childhood, we have a Father in Heaven who loves each of us as if we were His only child. He will hold and comfort us as only a loving parent can. Rather than bandaging skinned knees and feeding our bodies, He bandages wounded hearts and nourishes our souls. He may not carry us up to our rooms but He we will carry us close to His heart for the rest of our days.

Snuggle in God’s arms. When you are hurting, when you feel lonely, left out. Let Him cradle you, comfort you, reassure you of His all-sufficient power and love. [Kay Arthur]

He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart. [Isaiah 40:11 (NIV)]

Even to your old age and gray hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you. [Isaiah 46:4 (NIV)]

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THE MILLSTONE

These people are as useless as dried-up springs or as mist blown away by the wind. They are doomed to blackest darkness. They brag about themselves with empty, foolish boasting. With an appeal to twisted sexual desires, they lure back into sin those who have barely escaped from a lifestyle of deception. [2 Peter 2:17-18 (NLT)]

zion parkAround 67 AD, Peter wrote to the church at large to warn them about the danger of false teachers. In a stark contrast to the Messiah’s living water, they were likened to wells without water and Peter warned that they were dangerous, especially to those new to Jesus.  The Apostle’s words reminded me of Jesus’ caution to the disciples about causing one of His “little ones” to fall into sin. “What sorrow awaits the one who does the tempting,” He warned while mentioning a fate involving a millstone. It’s bad enough when we sin but even worse if we drag others down with us. We can do that by preaching a false message, inviting them to share in our sinful behavior or, in a far more subtle way, by causing them to distrust the gospel message or turn from their faith.

The Greek word translated as “cause to sin” is skandalizō, meaning “to put a stumbling-block or impediment in the way upon which another may trip and fall.” In the New Testament, it meant “to entice to sin.” If skandalizō  sounds familiar, it should. It’s the source of a word we see far too frequently nowadays: scandal. Yet another well-known name has been added to a long list of church leaders brought down by scandal and I think of the stumbling block of scandal. The worst thing about any scandal in the church is what it does to those left in its wake: the “little ones,” the spiritually immature, the “baby Christians” in our midst. They are the people who may be tempted to reject the gospel message because of the sinful behavior of those who supposedly represent Jesus and His followers!

While it’s easy to point a finger at fallen evangelists, let’s remember that three fingers point back at us. Our failings may not be as well-publicized or as blatant as theirs but they easily can be stumbling-blocks to someone’s faith. Our transgressions do not invalidate the message of Jesus but they certainly undermine our witness. When we fall, we wound more than ourselves. If we don’t shake people’s faith in Christ, we do shake their faith in His followers.

Granted, the non-believer will not be able to excuse his lack of faith or sins because of our failings. Nevertheless, if we’ve harmed or lost a soul because of our behavior, we’ll be held accountable. That millstone of which Jesus spoke? A stone used to grind grain, it was so large and heavy that it had to be turned by a donkey. Drowning with a millstone around one’s neck actually was a form of execution used by the Romans for particularly heinous crimes and Jews found this method especially repulsive and inhumane. Jesus’ reference to the horrific fate of those who cause others to fall into sin was not lost on them. Let it not be lost on us!

But if you cause one of these little ones who trusts in me to fall into sin, it would be better for you to have a large millstone tied around your neck and be drowned in the depths of the sea. What sorrow awaits the world, because it tempts people to sin. Temptations are inevitable, but what sorrow awaits the person who does the tempting. [Matthew 18:6-7 (NLT)]

So let’s stop condemning each other. Decide instead to live in such a way that you will not cause another believer to stumble and fall. [Romans 14:13 (NLT)]

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TWO MISTAKES

After the festival was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it. Thinking he was in their company, they traveled on for a day. [Luke 2:43-44 (NIV)]

He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?” Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.” [John 20:15 (NIV)]

spiderwortEvery year, Jesus and His family went to Jerusalem to celebrate the pilgrimage festival of Passover. Entire villages would travel together and the city was jam packed with worshipers when they departed for Nazareth. The men probably traveled apart from the women and children. Jesus, being twelve and no longer a little boy but not yet a man, could have been with either group. Perhaps Mary thought Him with the men while Joseph thought He was with the children. They didn’t know Jesus wasn’t there until they stopped that night. Moving with the crowd, his parents had mistakenly presumed His presence.

Sometimes, we get so caught up in the crowd’s movement that we fail to make sure Jesus is with us on our journey. We forget that it is the sheep who follow the shepherd and not the other way around. It took Joseph and Mary three days before they found Jesus in His Father’s house doing His Father’s business. Let us learn from them and look there for Him first. Be reassured; it’s never too late to turn back. If we seek Him, He will be found!

On the other hand, some people thought Jesus was absent when He was right in front of them. Never expecting to see a risen Christ, the tearful Mary Magdalene thought Jesus was the gardener. The two walking to Emmaus were unable to recognize the risen Christ because they were in a heated discussion (the Greek word was syzetein  meaning “strong debate”) about the meaning of the crucifixion and the empty tomb. Focusing on their sorrow, fear, doubt and confusion, Mary and the travelers didn’t realize they were in His presence!

Even though Jesus is right beside us, there are times in our lives we can’t recognize Him because we’re not looking for Him. Rather than seeking a resurrected Jesus, Mary just wanted to anoint a dead body and the two travelers were looking for answers rather than the Savior. Let’s never settle for anything less than seeing the risen Christ.

There are two mistakes we can make about Jesus: we can think He’s present when we’ve gone off without Him and we can think He’s absent when He’s right beside us. Let’s not make either mistake!

And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age. [Matthew 28:20b (NIV)]

Those who know your name trust in you, for you, Lord, have never forsaken those who seek you. [Psalm 9:10 (NIV)]

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. [Romans 8:38-39 (NIV)]

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THE RAINBOW

chicago rainbowI will never again curse the ground because of the human race, even though everything they think or imagine is bent toward evil from childhood. I will never again destroy all living things. As long as the earth remains, there will be planting and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night. [Genesis 8:21-22 (NLT)]

Tears are the material out of which heaven weaves its brightest rainbow. [F.B. Meyer]

With everyone stuck inside because of the rain, the day had been challenging as my son and his wife tried to get in eight hours of Zoom meetings, conference calls, report writing and computer programming while keeping their two youngsters busy (and relatively quiet). The rain finally stopped shortly before dusk and, when my grand ran out onto the rooftop deck to celebrate her freedom, she stopped in amazement. There, above the city, a city plagued not just by COVID-19 but also by gang violence, shootings, racism, rioting, and poverty, was a beautiful ray of hope: a double rainbow.

Rainbows are among my favorite things. The glory of the Lord “looked like a rainbow shining in the clouds on a rainy day,” to Ezekiel and John described the Lord’s glory circling Him like a rainbow and glowing like an emerald in Revelation. The rainbow shows us God’s light in the darkness of our troubled world and is probably the closest thing we have to seeing His radiance while we’re on this side of the grass.

Scripture’s first mention of a rainbow is in Genesis 9. Once the floodwaters had receded and the earth was dry enough, God told Noah to leave the ark and release all of the animals. Even though God knew mankind’s heart was still inclined toward evil, He gave us another chance with His promises to never again destroy every living thing by flood and that the normal cycles of nature would continue as long as the earth existed. The rainbow provided Noah and future generations with a sign of God’s covenant.

After a rain storm, with its clouds, thunder, and lightning, we frequently are blessed with a rainbow: a beautiful reminder of God’s love, mercy and faithfulness. It reminds us of both God’s grace and our sinfulness; after all, it was mankind’s sin that caused the flood in the first place! Rather than saving us by putting us on an ark of cypress wood, God saved us by putting Jesus on a cross. The rainbow reminds us of our redemption and salvation; because of Jesus, we have an opportunity for a new beginning. God packed a whole lot of supernatural meaning into a natural phenomenon when He hung the rainbow in the sky!

Before Noah and his family left that ark, they’d been in close quarters with one another and all of those animals for a year. If we think sheltering in place is challenging, imagine doing it with four families and an enormous menagerie but without the internet, Amazon, Netflix or Door Dash. Today’s bad news, like rain, keeps showering down and we’re in a season that seems to have no end. The storm clouds of life can obscure God’s presence but, when we remember that He is in the storm with us, we might just see a rainbow! Like my grand, I love seeing rainbows; they remind me that God is faithful to His promises for “all generations to come.”

And when it rains on your parade, look up rather than down. Without the rain, there would be no rainbow. [G.K. Chesterton]

I am giving you a sign of my covenant with you and with all living creatures, for all generations to come. I have placed my rainbow in the clouds. It is the sign of my covenant with you and with all the earth. When I send clouds over the earth, the rainbow will appear in the clouds, and I will remember my covenant with you and with all living creatures. Never again will the floodwaters destroy all life. [Genesis 9:12-15 (NLT)]

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IT’S A PROMISE!

Jenny Lake - Grand TetonsIf we are unfaithful, he remains faithful, for he cannot deny who he is. [2 Timothy 2:13 (NLT)]

When I first read the above verse in a daily meditation book, I felt reassured; even if I’m unfaithful to Jesus, He’ll remain faithful to me. Wondering if my interpretation was correct and suspecting the verse might have been taken out of context, I looked at the preceding lines: “If we die with him, we will also live with him. If we endure hardship, we will reign with him. If we deny him, he will deny us.” [2:11-12] Probably part of an early Christian hymn emphasizing the believer’s union with Christ, when put in context with, “If we are unfaithful, he remains faithful, for he cannot deny who he is,” we have a different meaning. Paul was echoing Jesus’ own words of warning: “But everyone who denies me here on earth, I will also deny before my Father in heaven.” [Matthew 10:33] Jesus cannot deny who He is; if we deny Him, He will remain faithful to His word and deny us.

But what of Peter? He denied Jesus three times and Jesus certainly didn’t deny him! Again I looked to the context: “If we die with him, we will also live with him. If we endure hardship, we will reign with him.” Rather than speaking of Christ followers who may have a temporary failing like that of Peter, Paul is speaking of those who have rejected Jesus and denied Him, as did Judas. When Peter denied knowing Jesus that night so long ago, he hadn’t stopped loving the Lord or having faith in Him. Yes, he failed Jesus but let us remember that God’s grace is greater than our human weaknesses. We all have unwavering faith until it is tested and, like Peter, we may fail when it is sorely tested. God, in His mercy forgave Peter, and He will forgive us.

Rather than words of cheer, Paul’s words are a serious warning for those who reject Jesus as Lord! Jesus can’t be false to himself. For the unbelieving and unfaithful, Christ will remain true to his word; no matter their works or virtue, if people have denied Him, He will deny them. Just as Jesus makes good on all of his promises, He’ll follow through on his threats, as well. Not so comforting a thought after all!

Since no man is excluded from calling upon God, the gate of salvation is open to all. There is nothing else to hinder us from entering, but our own unbelief. [John Calvin]

Anyone who believes and is baptized will be saved. But anyone who refuses to believe will be condemned. [Mark 16:16 (NLT)]

Everyone who acknowledges me publicly here on earth, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. But everyone who denies me here on earth, I will also deny before my Father in heaven. [Matthew 10:32-33 (NLT)]

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CLEAN GARMENTS

If God is for us, who can ever be against us? Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else? Who dares accuse us whom God has chosen for his own? No one—for God himself has given us right standing with himself. Who then will condemn us? No one—for Christ Jesus died for us and was raised to life for us, and he is sitting in the place of honor at God’s right hand, pleading for us. [Romans 8:31-34 (NLT)]

star jasmine

Around 520 BC, the prophet Zechariah revealed God’s future deliverance through the Messiah to the Jews who had just returned to Jerusalem from Babylonian captivity. In Zechariah’s fourth vision, the high priest Jeshua stood before an angel of the Lord. Instead of being attired in the spotless white linen robe and turban of a priest, Jeshua’s clothing was filthy (the Hebrew word used was tsow’ and referred to the filth of excrement). Standing to the angel’s right, in a court prosecutor’s position, was Satan. The Hebrew word śāṭān means “accuser” or “adversary” and Satan was living up to his name by making accusations that the unclean priest was unworthy of standing before the Lord. Calling the priest “a burning stick that has been snatched from the fire,” the Lord rejected the accuser’s charges.

In Zechariah’s vision, Jeshua symbolized the nation of Israel, his foul clothing the sins of the people, and his rescue from the coals the nation’s release from their Babylonian exile. Satan, of course, had a vested interest in his accusations; if he could get God to reject Israel, God’s plan of redemption would be thwarted. It wasn’t as if God didn’t recognize Israel’s sin; they’d been punished with seventy years of captivity. God, however, hadn’t turned from His people because of their sins; having delivered them back to Jerusalem, they were still His people.

After the angels around Jeshua took off his filthy garments, the priest was told that his sins were removed and he was given new clothes and a clean turban. On the front of the priest’s turban would have been a medallion with the words “Holy to the Lord.” Just as Jeshua was reinstated as a priest with his clean priestly attire, the nation of Israel was cleansed and restored as a priestly nation and made holy to the Lord! What an amazing image this is. The filthy robe of sins was removed and replaced with garments of God’s righteousness.

What followed was a Messianic vision in which the Lord of Heaven’s Armies promised the coming of a servant called “the Branch,” the removal of all the land’s sins in a single day, and an era of peace and blessings when “each of you will invite your neighbor to sit with you peacefully under your own grapevine and fig tree.” [3:10]

What do Zachariah’s words from over 2,500 years ago mean to us? God’s chosen servant was Jesus; He was the promised Branch stemming from Adam, Abraham, and David. The day Jesus died on the cross was the single day when all our sins were removed! Although Satan continues to accuse us, Jesus is now at God’s right hand and, instead of indicting us, He is pleading for us!

Just as God didn’t reject Israel, He hasn’t rejected us. Because of God’s grace, like Jeshua, we can hand off our sin-covered garments to the Lord and have robes of righteousness returned. Our robes, however, are washed in the blood of the Lamb. Social distancing may have kept us from sitting under a tree with our neighbors, but that promised day of peace and plenty will happen when Jesus returns and reigns as King.

God will not lightly or easily lose His people. He has provided well for us: blood to wash us in; a Priest to pray for us, that we may be made to persevere; and, in case we foully fall, an Advocate to plead our cause. [John Bunyan]

They have washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb and made them white. They will never again be hungry or thirsty; they will never be scorched by the heat of the sun. For the Lamb on the throne will be their Shepherd. He will lead them to springs of life-giving water. And God will wipe every tear from their eyes.” [Revelation 7:14,16-17 (NLT)]

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